Syria and Lebanon - Calls for peace and concerns for the future

A Catholic leader in the Middle East has called for a renewed dedication to peace in Syria, expressing concern at how the continuing conflict may affect Lebanon.

The Melkite Archbishop of Zahlé, Lebanon, John Issam Darwish, made his comments while talking to international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

He called for the international community to commit themselves resolutely to the cause of peace in Syria, stressing that many Lebanese were afraid the Syrian war would spill over into Lebanon.

According to Archbishop Darwish, "The situation in Syria is having a direct effect on the stability of Lebanon."

He continued by saying that the Lebanese government had broken down as a result, and that the parliamentary elections planned for June had been postponed.

The Catholic leader also described how the Lebanese economy was also feeling the effects of the situation in Syria. He noted that many tourists had cancelled their trips to Lebanon.

"And what's more,” he continued, “we have more than a million Syrian refugees in the country. We help them where we can. In my archdiocese alone we have taken in 700 families.”

“But these masses of people are pushing Lebanon to the limit. And this figure will grow if the conflict in Syria continues."

The international Syria conference in Geneva, planned for June, is, in the words of the Archbishop, an excellent opportunity to put forward a new road map for peace.

"I therefore appeal to the international community to commit itself to peace in Syria.”  Archbishop Darwish said. “I call on the European countries in particular to put pressure on all the parties to the conflict to come to the negotiating table."

A peaceful dialogue between the Syrians, the Archbishop continued, was the only way to achieve peace and stability: "Democratic progress is only possible through negotiations and discussions, not by waging war. First the fighting and bloodshed must cease."

In view of the roughly 80,000 war dead, Archbishop Darwish said that reconciliation within Syria would be very difficult, but he also said there were initial indications of it being possible.

"Recently I took part in an international delegation, which was led by, among others, the Northern Irish Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Mairead Maguire. We traveled to Damascus and met both sides.”

“Both the government representatives and the rebels assured us that they were basically willing to conduct negotiations. But this can only be achieved with the help of the international community."


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